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September 03, 2005

What Do We Do Now?

By Ezra

The aftermath of Katrina will be expensive. We're talking huge funds to house, to feed, to clothe, to rebuild, to refit, to paint, to restore, to recreate a city and protect its inhabitants. This is a humanitarian disaster on a massive scale, and bringing New Orleans back into the light is going to require an almost unimaginable amount of cash.

But where are we going to get it?

Iraq isn't proving cheap, health costs are exploding, the deficit is soaring, and the administration's fiscal management philosophy has, up till now, been from the Crackhead School of Accounting. So how're we going to pay? Tony Blankley, speaking of Left Right and Center yesterday, said doing so would force some very serious tradeoffs in America life. Health care, he noted, might have to be cut. Urban spending can't coexist with entitlements if we're going to rebuild the drenched areas.

Tony Blankley, you should all know, is a douche. Because what he didn't mention is that taxes can, and should, be raised. Government revenues aren't fixed things, they change in response to tax structures, to fees, to economic cycles, and to phases in the moon. But we can, by and large, control them, raise them, lower them, through tax revenues. Obviously, if we have much to spend on but no money to spend, we should be raising. But with the Senate promising immediate consideration of Estate Tax Repeal or Reform (Reform being the difference between murdering the tax and simply paralyzing it for life), that's looking rather unlikely.

This is where presidential leadership is supposed to come in. This is where responsible statesmen step in front of the cameras, heave a big sigh, and tell their fellow countrymen that American citizens need help, that disaster has struck, and that we're all going to have to tighten our belts a bit. Just like in a family, where the misfortune of one necessitates the involvement of all, so too is America a sort of extended family, and all of us are going to have to aid our siblings in Louisiana. Pursuant to that, the next two years are going to see tax increases of 2% per bracket. That'll go towards rebuilding the flooded territories and making sure our soldiers have body armor. It sucks, but Bush, Cheney, and all participating cabinet members are going to lead the way by sacrificing their salaries for the next three years.

His poll numbers would go through the roof. Grover Norquist would break out in hives, as would certain knuckle-draggers in the House, but they'd quickly be marginalized, ejected from the American consensus. This country is packed with good people who believe in charity and community -- most of them would love to aid in this disaster, and the knowledge that their taxes would go towards something so concrete would make for an easy sell. It's a political no-brainer.

So why won't he do it?

Legitimizing government's role, I guess, is anathema to the Republican consensus. And raising taxes and calling for sacrifice are the acts of statesmen, but that breed was long ago poached out of existence in this Executive Branch. So what we're left with is a disaster we can't pay for, a disaster that prominent Republicans are demanding we fund with cuts in entitlements that keep the poor barely afloat. In other words, a reconstruction effort funded by worsening the sort of poverty that led to this situation.

Those who ignore make the poor repeat it.

At the end of The Candidate, Redford, having won without substance and taking an office for which he's unprepared, turns to his campaign manager and, overwhelmed, asks, "What do we do now?" At the end of this flood, with a President lacking substance and a government that's totally unprepared, there's no statesman to turn to. But it's still the same question.

What do we do now? And how will we pay for it?

September 3, 2005 in Electoral Politics | Permalink


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You want my prediction?

We're going to borrow a few tens of billions from China, give it to Administration cronies in no-bid contracts, wait a few years, observe that less than a quarter of the promised work has been done and contractors need more money, then we're going to borrow a few more tens of billions from China, give it to Administration cronies in no-bid contracts...

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Sep 3, 2005 6:18:02 PM

You said it, Hamilton Lovecraft.

Posted by: pol | Sep 3, 2005 6:30:05 PM

If we look back more than 100 years to the earthquake and fires in San Francisco, some interesting lessons appear.

The debris from the homes and business was taken to the shoreline and dumped, greatly increasing the size of the city, but by creating residential and business land on fill material that created the conditions for later earthquake disasters. The soft-filled earth liquifies when shaken. This should not be repeated.

The new buildings built were built with lowered building codes and enforcement, also creating new conditions for disaster. This was covered up by the city administration that wanted the world to think SF was back (sound familiar?)

SF did not make the substantial investments in public infrastructure (water, electricity, communications, roads) that would serve for the generations to come. It was patched together from old stuff. Watch for those who push for this approach - it costs much more later.

Most of the cost of rebuilding SF was done by private parties because government funding of disaster repair was not a federal (or state) government function. No city today has the resources to do this with current costs of city-building and infrastructure (sound familiar to what we might expect?)

The reversal of the 2001 tax cuts is the most obvious way for the nation as a whole to rebuild a vital city in one of the world's largest ports. The economic product of much of the midwest needs to go through that port. Will the federal income taxes be increased? Not on your life unless we fight like hell.

Watch not what BushCo says now when they are in the glare of the media and public outrage. Watch what they do through hard appropriations of money when the glare has faded - as it will. Big promises for NYC after 9/11, but small deliveries after the fact.

The sensible thing to do regarding rebuilding is to fill in that northern portion of the city on Lake Pontchartrain - but not with soft-fill material. Raise the level of the land for much of the central core where housing, not high-rises are flooded. Rebuld the levies for cat 5 hurricane conditions. Recreate the off-shore islands and lost bayous south of the city to provide buffer areas for storm surge.

In regard to the coastal areas of MI and AL, insist that new buildings be built high and strong enough to resist further complete destruction from storm surge and winds so this level of destruction doesn't happen again.

All this will cost maybe $100 billion, more or less. This is about one third of the cost of the Iraq effort to date, and certainly something our economy can afford, and is morally required to do.

Now is the time for the country to insist that we halt the destruction of public services to fund lower taxes for the wealthy.

Bush's tax actions must be reversed. If the Dems can't make this case, then the Dem party will have proved its non-utility to the American people.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 3, 2005 6:54:34 PM

How about we first take care of the people, then we either rebuild the city (hiring tens of thousands, by the way) or the people go somewhere else, accepting jobs for which they are qualified to do.

As for New Orleans, The Mayor deserves to be out of a job, since he didn't follow the plan, allowing buses to be flooded rather than using them to help evacuate. He should also have followed the plan, and moved the fire trucks and ambulances to high ground, ready to go back in to help after the storm had passed.

To keep this from happening again, tough zoning regulations should be put in to build a strong barrier of wetlands to buffer cities and towns against the next Hurricane.

After the Mayor mucked it up, the Governor rushed the national guard in, and federal services have been doing an unusually good job, but usually the federals support the locals. Here the locals called for evacuation late, didn't organize the evacuation, abandoned most of the city transportation assets, then complained that the rest of the world didn't immediately compensate for their incompetence.

As for corruption, it is probably the local thugs who will arrange for no-compete contracts. Louisiana Democrats have long been greatly corrupt, all the way back to Huey Long and before.

Don't worry, LA will be glad to accept your football team, especially if they would be willing to change their name.

Posted by: Don Meaker | Sep 3, 2005 7:16:51 PM

Well, Halliburton has been given the contract to rebuild New Orleans, so let the profiteering begin.

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Sep 3, 2005 7:46:03 PM

As for New Orleans, The Mayor deserves to be out of a job, since he didn't follow the plan, allowing buses to be flooded rather than using them to help evacuate.

I realize that this is part of the faxed talking points you are obligated to repeat, and I don't want you to be out of a job, so I'll forgive you for repeating them. You're just following orders.

However, for the rest of the readers, they should know, of course, that the mayor was on the ball with handling the evacuation. As we can see, it was Nagin, not Bush, who realized that this was a disaster that had to be dealt with, and he took as much of an initiative as he could have under the circumstances, as astute readers are well aware:

As many as 100,000 inner-city residents didn't have the means to leave, and an untold number of tourists were stranded by the closing of the airport. The city arranged buses to take people to 10 last-resort shelters, including the Superdome.

Nagin also dispatched police and firefighters to rouse people out with sirens and bullhorns, and even gave them the authority to commandeer vehicles to aid in the evacuation.

Of course, things broke down from there, and FEMA rejected aid from Chicago, Washington DC prevented additional national guard troops from other states from being deployed in Lousiana and, of course, Bush appointee Michael "Brownie" Brown was completely out of his league. Bush, of course, had better things to do than think about the issue.

Posted by: Constantine | Sep 4, 2005 1:23:40 AM

Intelligent insights, Hamilton. Here's what we can do: show up for the peace march in DC on 9/24. I wasn't going...the expense, time off work,etc. ... but after NO, I feel absolutely compelled to stand with the people who have the balls to take on this corrupt administration. I would not fly across the country to protest Iraq; I will to voice my utter disgust with the Bush administration.

Posted by: carol | Sep 4, 2005 11:09:10 AM

There's an additional discussion to be had concering how to raise money and it is an important one that we will face soon:

Some of the money allocated by the Feds will go to rebuilding the casinos in Mississippi. We all know it is going to happen. That money will be justified by Barbour, et al. as providing jobs, providing revenue in the Gulf Coast.

But let's take a step back. First off, the idea that casinos in Mississippi should take precedence over feeding and housing the refugees from Louisiana, is, of course, immoral (and I'd like to hear how on EARTH that makes someone who even lets it happen, let along advocates it, a good Christian).

Second, these casinos are a way to raise taxes on those who have less means. It is basically a tax, not on those with means, but those with less means but misguided hopes.

Why doesn't Barbour raise taxes on those more privileged in Mississippi and ask the casinos to rebuild with the insurance money (after all, if anyone is used to the effects of "gambling", it would be casino owners)? Well, we all know the answer: he gets campaign contributions from a powerful lobby and there's a pathological distrust re:involuntary taxes in Mississippi.

So I ask you, Ezra: isn't this precisely the issue that we should be confronting proactively as Democrats, not bitching about it after it occurs? It is the right issue to raise, it shows the moral cowardice and unChristian greed of some in the GOP and it is going to be increasingly important.

Posted by: Chris R | Sep 4, 2005 12:59:49 PM

They'll do what they have always done to Louisiana--give it 1/10th the money they need and hope they disappear off the face of the planet.

Posted by: Amanda | Sep 4, 2005 2:31:06 PM

I think we need a reconstruction program similar to the old WPA program that built Hoover Dam. We could use a combination of private and government funding by repealing the tax cut for the rich. Most importantly, this reconstruction should be led and worked by the people who live in NOLA which would turn victims back into people in charge of their lives.

What I think we'll get instead is Haliburton and other gluttonous corporate friends of the Rethugs slurping up our tax $$ and doing their usual incompetent job.

Does anybody know how long it took after the $10B aid bill was signed for Haliburton to get the cleanup contract?

Posted by: doncom | Sep 4, 2005 6:41:42 PM

I'm not a big conspiracy-theorist, but I'd be willing to bet that when the water is cleared and the bodies removed, we will have the biggest and best fit of urban renewal in the history of the country.

Poor? What poor? Black? Not in this neighborhood (...anymore)! Look at all the lovely coastline waiting to be rebuilt by Halliburton and friends... What profit margins! A whole new coastline for the rich to inhabit!

We can have the biggest, most Disney-fied version of New Orleans yet, with million-dollar housing all along the shore. Watch while the insurance companies suddenly "can't" pay out (for those who even had insurance); watch while people move away from the area...and the developers move in.

Posted by: Heather | Sep 4, 2005 8:44:34 PM

Let us back up and look at the grand scheme here. New Orleans, great city or not, has been hit by a massive catastrophe. And as one would suspect, the well-to-do and the wealthy have made it out with little repercussion. The lower class, the projects, the government-supported are the ones seen on the televisions and newspapers of America looting and dying of thirst or hunger or medical necessities. Death and disease and cries for help plague the radio and internet billboards. Clearly, in black & white, if you work and support yourself, chances are, you're not one of the 'refugees'.

Now, refugees (which we're not supposed to call refugees because they are still Americans) come from years and years of cultivation. They are found everywhere, not just New Orleans, but in all metropolitan areas. They are the descendants of the town fools that those who worked felt pity for and supported with guilt money. It takes decades, generations, even lifetimes, to produce a poverty class of people. The children are raised under government subsidized housing, eat from government issued food stamps, wear school uniforms provided by government money. This class of people have now taken for granted that Uncle Sam is now Father Sam or Mr Provider. And when a disaster of this proportion comes along, who do they expect to take care of them? That's right, the GOVERNMENT. Not only that, but they have grown so accustomed to the lifestyle, they don't ask, they DEMAND that someone provide for them.

Well the government has failed them this time, as we all have seen. But despite the government's efforts, or lack thereof, this has been largely a failure of the people. Too quickly is everyone looking to point a finger instead of offering a helping hand. Florida, just last year, was hit by not just one, but THREE hurricanes and the national resources of Americans were called upon but the problems there dissipated as quickly as they arose. Where did they go? Was Florida not damaged? Even now, watching the people of Mississippi and Alabama, I see helping hands and smiling faces of those who lost everything in one night - everything but heart, faith, dignity, morality, and love. These are things that are not possessed by many of the government-dependent citizens in the slums and projects of our 'great cities'. Instead, in their hearts are rage, fear, jealousy, and a distrust among even their own kind. If you don't understand what I mean, watch an ice chest full of live crawfish: they are all trying to get out but just as one is about to make it, another grabs him by the tail and pulls him back in, thus dooming them all to be boiled alive.

Now I, myself, have witnessed the effects first-hand. I was born and raised and still reside in Baton Rouge. I love the people here, most are warm and caring and despite the crooked politics, this is a wonderful place to live. I visited a friend's apartment throughout the duration of the storm. I, like hundreds of thousands of others, lost electricity, internet, telephone, etc. I have also watched as the evacuees - my neighbors from 40 minutes away - came in and overpopulated my hometown. As of now, 70-80% of all gas stations are out of fuel and the price of the remaining fuel has jumped from $2.45 to $3.29 in less than 4 days. The best time to go grocery shopping is between 4 and 7 AM and you had better make the men of the house do it, it's a sick world here. My roommate is a 110 pound female and I fear for her life or for her falling victim to a rapist or mugger. I have seen a fight break out at the Shell gas station on Highland Road with the police RIGHT THERE. I have seen an 18-wheeler and two buses packed full of refugees unload their human cargo on Bluebonnet Boulevard and Jefferson Highway in broad daylight, desperate people who have nowhere to go and who will do anything, seriously, anything to survive no matter who or what else must suffer.

Even last night, in line at the Mcdonald's drive-thru on Jefferson, I watched as the two vehicles behind me got into an argument over who was next in line. Neaxt in line! And, I watched as they showed each other that one had a pistol in his center console and the other had a makeshift AK-47 behind the seat of his pickup truck. And, I watched as the guy in the truck climbed out, walked around to the back side of the car, and ripped off the license plate and waved it in the air like a trophy, cursing like a madman and telling the boys in the car to 'go ahead, call the cops!' and all the while, I couldn't do anything for fear of my own life.

Now don't take me the wrong way, I repeatedly tell my heart, 'These are the good people who, in desparation, are acting out without considering the moral outcome'. This isn't a RACIAL issue, it's a SOCIAL issue. Those guys behind me at Mcdonalds were white. This changes nothing...

Jesse Jackson, Kanye West, especially the NAACP, and all others who are calling it a 'black thing', you parade around in your thousand dollar suits and shiny vehicles and preach that this is a result of racism. But how many refugees have you let into your own homes? How many of your millions of dollars have you contributed to the disaster? Would you even give a single red cent if you didn't get to have your face on television, blasting the government and causing riots and uproars? You are fueling the fire; I personally can assure you that you are NOT helping.

To fix this problem, we need REFORM. we need political reform of the state of Louisiana, KNOWN for its history of crookedness and politicians with thickly-lined pockets. We need structural reform of the city of New Orleans, an entire city below sea level without sufficient levee and dike sturdiness or an emergency pump system that runs independently. We need building codes for housing that will withstand future occurrences. We need evacuation routes and plans to relocate hundreds of thousands of people and the means to do it. We need citizens that will follow instructions to evacuate (I agree with you Anne Rice, but compliance would have saved a WORLD of trouble). we especially need welfare reform to weed out those who are able but choose not to work so there will be fewer people who 'couldn't afford to leave' (I have one main job to pay the bills and many small side jobs that I use to take vacations or cover the costs of rainy days. Don't tell me you can't find work, the economy is booming, you just don't WANT to work). We need educational reform of the state of Louisiana, whose teachers are terribly underpaid and overworked, only to have the brightest of their students graduate and move out of Louisiana.

But most of all, we need social reform. We need people who will stand up and assume responsiblity for their actions. We need compassion, consideration, education, responsibility, determination, integrity, and discipline - all values necessary to be a unified and civilized people. If you teach a child these values, racism and crime dwindle down to immature social nuisances (Jesse Jackson, you are letting 'your people' down by demanding social status equality, you should be fighting for education - Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great man but he fought with the best of intentions for the wrong cause). We need parents who will raise their children instead of using them to collect more government cheese on the first of the month. Some time back, I saw a single-parent friend of mine out one night, intoxicated as usual, and she came to me asking me to buy her another drink because she was low on money. I told her to go home and raise her little boy so he wouldn't rob me in 15 years. Cold and brutal as those words were, I hit a nerve that night but she took my advice...

This problem is rooted much deeper than 8-10 feet of contaminated water full of chemical toxins and floating corpses. It's in the way that band-aids are issued instead of the correct fixes because the band-aids are cheaper and require less effort. It has become our nation's way of life and our Louisiana code of ethics. I am almost ashamed to say that I am from this state, knowing that we must be the jackasses of the nation right now scrambling around blindly in our time of crisis. I am disappointed in Governor Blanco for not using more forceful control and the power of her position, but I never presumed she would be right for the position anyway. I am, however, a devout republican and a follower of President Bush's actions and decisions, and I must say that I am very disappointed in Mr. Bush's response to this incident. I am ex-military and I know the resources that are out there and I wonder every day why they are not being utilized properly.

Wake up America, your hometown could be next...

Posted by: Randy Jackson | Sep 4, 2005 10:36:19 PM

Fuck you, Randy Jackson, you racist scumbag. If there was any justice in the world, you would be drowning in the putrid flood waters of Lake George.

Posted by: Firebug | Sep 5, 2005 12:54:38 AM

Thank you, Randy Jackson, for saying what needs to be said. The truth is often not what people wish to hear.
The poster above criticized you for being "racist". That is the standard attack if you don't subscribe to the enabling the liberals practice. Anyone who reads the entire comment understands that is a bogus charge. It is not racial, but social and the Democratic liberals do, indeed, have culpability in creating this permanent underclass.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 5, 2005 8:46:33 AM

If they are going to rebuild the Casinos, maybe they shouldn't build them...on the Coast! New Orleans has to be where it is, the Casinos do not.

Posted by: DonRobbie | Sep 5, 2005 5:07:10 PM

Wow, the trolls are getting vicious.

I suppose we should all take comfort in the fact that the babies who died of dehydration in the superdome were wanted criminals or something.

And that the thousands of bodies they'll be finding in attics in the coming weeks are, I dunno, all wanted for littering or somesuch.

And the hundred or so evacuees who died after they'd been rescued from their homes and dumped on a meridian in crescent city were all, um, bank robbers. Yep.

Doubtless there are some who will find comfort in such lies, but I think you'll find few. Most people don't have such hate for the poor in their hearts.

Posted by: theorajones | Sep 5, 2005 11:00:10 PM

Most people don't have such hate for the poor in their hearts.

Nice strawman...

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 6, 2005 11:59:00 AM

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